Collage is a playful craft capable of escape the false absolutism of things, as Max Ernst said, because juxtaposing different realities these are relativized in a poetic and subversive way.
But Max Ernst couldn’t yet foresee the current invasion of informative and disinformative collages circulating daily before our eyes, which makes the nowadays artists work of scissors and glue more complicated.
The social, hegemonic and patriarchal imaginary has been able to appropriate the fortuitous encounter proclaimed by the surrealists to sneak into the collective subconscious and standardize mental patterns, so it is not surprising that the contribution of women to fight these standards through photomontage and collage: reformatting the body, resetting the thought, freeing it from expectations and constraints…
The androgynous and trans-ethnic characters of Hannah Höch in Dadaist times, Grete Stern’s visual interpretation of housewives and secretaries anguish and traumas, the juxtaposition of decorative magazine clippings and war photographs in Martha Rosler’s, the porn magazine models with heads replaced by home appliances in Linder Sterling’s pretty girls…
Aurora Duque descends from this same genealogical tree. She shows the fissures that hide simplistic visions of life and love, explores with irony sick aspects underlying couple routines, she fights the heteronormative and practices skilful semantic displacements.
Q- These days you are participating in an exhibition in Swinton & Grant, curated by Susana Blas and dedicated to the Gilgamesh Poem. This is the earliest written literature that has been preserved, revealing us that today the same themes remain in force (hunger for eternity, jealousy as a trigger of catastrophes, the value of friendship and self-dicovery process…) What aspects interested you of this epic?
This is a very personal project of Susana Blas in which has involved a group of artists who have fallen in love to this poem and her proposal. Some already knew it; others, as is my case, was the first time we approached to the poem. It, as you said, deals with universal themes and is amazing because while reading you realize that all the feelings, fears, values that have been told over and over throughout the history of literature were already gathered there. Susana Blas pampers the artists she works with and establishes a very personal relationship with them. In my case, she knew, after long and close talks, that I would treat what was related to the friend’s death and the pursuit of immortality. From the epic I was interested in focusing on Gilgamesh himself, strong, despot, powerful, and his vital transformation through his friendship with Enkidu.
The piece I present in the exhibition is entitled Ineludible (in) mortalidad, and is composed of thirteen collages and a sculpture-collage. In them I have worked viscerally and technically in a not usual in my processe, where the idea of what I wanted to do rather than the randomness of the collage has prevailed, although it has inevitably been present. After talking to Susana, I decided to work on tablet XI where Gilgamesh loses the plant that will give him immortality, his last chance to reach it, and becomes aware of his reality: he is a mortal man. In the poem, crying, he tells the boatman Urshanabi:[To] whom, Urshanabi, did my hands work? By whom is the blood of my heart spilled? I wanted to answer that defeated man and tell him that he is indeed a mortal man but that he is immortal by his poem. At the same time, a dialogue is established with the spectator so that he somehow feels identified with that being that faces for the first time the idea of his own death. That’s why the Gilgamesh sculpture I have made is intentionally asexual, has no obvious marks of any sex; only organs, viscera and muscles are seen.
Personally, for me was very shocking the moment when I was aware that life is over, it seems very naif what I say, but when you are young doesn’t think that one day may come the disease, and much less the death. On the other hand, I have always thought that we will cease to exist only when everyone stop remembering us, but I understand the moment of sadness and the feeling of failure of Gilgamesh because, when he loses the possibility of being immortal, he didn’t know that in 21st century we would continue to remind him and excite through his epic.
This has been a project emotionally intense for me and I am very grateful to Susana Blas for inviting me to take part in it.
Q- One of the areas in which you have developed your work is the struggle against gender binarism. Queer theory began to forge in the 1990s in intellectual circles, but discrimination based on sexual orientation remains in the legal and social spheres. Is it so?
Unfortunately, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation continues to exist in all areas. We are many who struggle for normalization and believe that it is necessary to make visible the diversity and plurality of gender, sexual identities and orientations. It is a topic that interests me and is a constant in my work. I believe that commitment and working together with activist groups is necessary to, step by step, achieve a social transformation to respond to not to realities that are not new but have always existed although have remained hidden or silenced.
In this respect, I am very proud to take part in FREE WEE PROJECT, a project whose goal is to eliminate differentiation and separation by binary gender binary in all public toilets. The project, to which any store or institution can adhere, was presented at Swinton & Grant (which is a freeweeproject site) with an exhibition curated by Ricardo Recuero. Each one of us made an image or icon that served to identify a public bath without distinction of gender. When I was asked to participate, I thought about the children’s world: how should you feel as a child with a gender identity in the margins of the normative, when you see a sign in a bathroom with which you do not identify? I decided to work for the children’s group and from there came TransPotato. A sculpture-collage appropriated from the well known Mr. and Ms. Potato, a toy whose design lends to play with mixed gender identities but which is still sold separately in man and woman version. What I did was create a character with the two genres, cutting one half of Mr. and another of Ms. Potato and glueing together. Moreover, in both parts of the character I mixed pieces traditionally associated with both male and female gender, thus disturbing the socially accepted symbology. The result was a character with an unidentified genre, fun and iconographically recognizable to be in services without binary gender, mainly, of educational centers.
Another project in which I participated in relation to queer theory was the exhibition Trans (Artistica) Yo soy, organized by Antifaz group in WORLD PRIDE in Madrid, dedicated to all transgender people and looking for reflection and the approach to the set of identities that were not grouped within the gender binarism. One of the objectives was to claim the freedom to feel the body and the use of aesthetics to show the identity with which we want to identify ourselves. On this occasion I paid tribute to the emblematic Ocaña, a key person in the LGTBI movement in Spain and whom I admire deeply and who with his public performances, fresh and scandalous, his costumes, makeup, claimed freedom of sexual choice. Also in a way, it was a tribute to all those people that fought so much to make visible other sexual identities, in a dictatorship in which it was a cause of imprisoned.
Q- The feminist struggle, in which you are also involved, is even older, and seems to be still necessary. Perhaps it would cease to be when we all had the courage to be ourselves instead of what society expects us to be, as did the women you pay homage to in your collages, from women writers to cabaret ladies (Elena Garro, Manolita Chen … )
I think women are courageous and powerful, I do not think it’s a matter of having the courage to be ourselves; is that women have been hidden, silenced by a heteropatriarcal history that has not interested give them visibility. That is why I consider imperative that each one of us with her own voice bring to light and claim so many forgotten women in all fields, not only intellectual, literary, artistic, scientific… also the anonymous women who have been the engine of a society that has never valued them. In my work the reference to women and feminism is a constant, which I consider almost an obligation as a female artist, and there are many examples of groups of warrior women, feminist princesses or collages that mention the necessary sonority of women so that together we can start the change in this society that unfortunately is still very macho and, what is worse, ignores that it is.
I am part of LA RECORTADA collective, which is defined as a feminist collective of collage which aims, precisely, to make known women that history has kept out. In this group each member not only makes collages about these women, but also investigates to bring them closer to the public, thus to make an educational work and give them visibility. We have held exhibitions on forgotten women in all areas (women in the Second Republic, working women…) and we have other projects in mind, such as focusing our research on women in the neighborhoods and collage workshops.
La Recortada has made collages, among others, of Maria Lejárraga, María Teresa León, Rosa Sensat, Marcela Gracia and Elisa Sánchez, Ernestina de Champourcin, Federica Montseny, Marie Curie, Blair Niles, Emmy Noether, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Sophie Taeuber , Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, Gerda Taro … women (lowercase “w”) aside from an official male-written history in which the enormous value of their actions and achievements has been hidden, and only has prevailed the (negative) assessment of their female status.
I am also part of LA TERTULIA LA ROLDANA, a group of 10 women artists from Madrid. It is an active initiative to address, from different fronts, the revaluation of the work of women artists in Spain and Latin America. The group receives its name in homage to the Sevillian Baroque sculptor Luisa Roldán, La Roldana (1652-1706). La Roldana had her workshop-housing in the same building of the Madrid neighborhood of La Latina where we decided to hold our gatherings.
Q- Sometimes you use Greek myths (Helios and Clitia, Eos and Titono …) to talk about unrequited loves, possessive and destructive characters, the rebel Arachne… Women are not innocent and know how to adapt to the environment, versatiles, passionates … except when they fall into the routine of marriage?
It is true that when I make mythological collages I always emphasize the feminine side of the myth and always, almost unconsciously, I look at strong and powerful women, perhaps because mythology has not treated women very well, many of them raped or kidnapped by capricious and violent gods, and I show the most rebellious and destructive mythological women.
As for marriage, I don’t think that institution is the problem, although for me personally the concept of relationship goes beyond the traditional couple. In my series Lovers I work in an ironic way with other types of relationships outside of conventional relationships, in many cases relationships in which the pattern of sexual behavior is found in atypical individuals, objects, situations or activities.
What I’m wondering about is that romantic love that has been taught us that it is the most precious and that any woman should crave. Working on this concept I participated in the exhibition En lucha común of feminist women and men, curated by Susana Blas and Tonia Trujillo with a piece of 11 collages that was titled Esto NO es amor, quien lo probó lo sabe, where I started with the idea of blaming woman as the element of the couple that lets be dominated, overwhelm and mistreat, without taking into consideration the illusion to build a future and the emotion of believing in words and gestures. And I made criticism of society that continues to stigmatize battered women as if they were the root cause; blaming them for having let themselves go, for throwing themselves into the arms of violence, of not knowing how to react or get out of their hell. I used Lope de Vega’s poem Esto es amor, quien lo probó lo sabe, which deals with feelings that are usually recognized as essential in love and among which are damage, suffering, sadness, submission . The dichotomy of love described in the poem is accepted as natural when in reality it is a social construction: being furious-tender; deceased-alive; loyal-traitor; angry-satisfied, to end up accepting that we must love the pain and give our life. All in the name of love.
Q- Being the digital edition able to work wonders, does it tempts you to abandon the analogue collage?
I couldn’t live without the coolness of the scissors in my hands, the sound of torn paper, the smell of old paper, patience and the moment of intimacy to look for images, the randomness of this process … I know that the possibilities of the digital ones are huge, but I need the manual work. What is tempting me is to introduce other techniques in the collages: ink, watercolor. And also the collage in an installation, in three dimensions …
Q- What comes first the idea or the random finding? I imagine that chance is often involved in the outcome of a collage.
Well, it depends on the project I’m working on. In LOS DÍAS CONTADOS, which is a collective project created by Álvaro Sobrino and to which I owe my passion for collage, chance is the prime factor. In this project all the members have the same daily image and we make a collage with it. Here I am led by chance, I don’t think a priori what I want to do, and that is really magic, because I start with an image, many times impossible or that I would never have chosen, and is gradually taking on a life of its own. For me it is an almost therapeutic moment, in which we are only my cuts and I. To what I give a lot of importance and load of content the collage is the title, I spend a lot of time thinking about it and with it appears irony, criticism, satire.
In other projects where we started with a specific theme, such as Gilgamesh’s poem, I had an idea of what I wanted to do, the images I wanted them to be in the collage. The difficulty of that process is that you have to look for the images and for that I spend a lot of time browsing magazines, old papers, books, etc. Of course, somehow, chance is an intrinsic part of the collage. Nothing is impossible with collage: surrealism, the world of dreams, fantasy … everything is present.
Interviewed by Anna Adell